How to Handle the Aftermath When Technology Becomes Torture
A survey by the Cyberbullying Research Center concluded that almost 34% of students in middle and high school had experienced cyberbullied in 2016 – the highest percentage reported since the organization began tracking cyberbullying 10 years ago. As this problem grows, it’s imperative for students, parents and educators to understand the effects of cyberbullying and what can be done to prevent it. This blog post provides a holistic approach to the issue and features information about the types of cyberbullying, how students can protect themselves and what measures can be taken to deal with it after it occurs.
Cyberbullying happens when someone harasses, torments, threatens or humiliates someone else via the use of technology – including text messages, social media sites, email, instant messages and websites. Similar to face-to-face bullying, cyberbullying can present in several different kinds of behaviors. Here are some common cyberbullying examples.
Flaming transpires when individuals post derogatory comments on someone’s web or social media page or via instant messages, emails or chat rooms. This usually happens during an online fight, and the communication often contains angry, foul language.
“Probably the most common form of impersonation involves fake accounts or profiles designed to impersonate the victim. One form of impersonation, known as ‘fraping,’ involves someone gaining unauthorized access to the victim’s social media account, impersonating them and posting inappropriate content as the victim,” says Margaret Arsenault, Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Face2Face Youth Group Inc. “While some kids may think of it as a harmless prank, impersonating someone online and damaging their very real – and arguably fragile – reputation can have serious consequences. We remind the kids we interact with that once something gets out to the Internet, it’s impossible to control it. Even things that are deleted can exist as many, many electronic copies elsewhere and resurface.”
This kind of cyberbullying involves sharing someone’s private information in order to publicly humiliate him or her. Outing can contain posting photos, emails, text messages or videos on the Internet or forwarding them to other individuals.
Cyberstalking occurs when an individual uses technology to repeatedly harass, intimidate and threaten another individual. Cyberstalkers may track of their victims and make attempts to meet them. Many cases of cyberstalking involve adults grooming teenagers to have sexual relationships with them.
“Catfishing is when someone pretends to be someone they are not and sometimes assumes another person’s identity online, including the identity of the victim,” says Jennifer Ponce, Prevention Education Manager with Laura’s House. “They might do this to post inappropriate content or manipulate and hurt other relationships the victim has online.”
Harassment involves the relentless sending of malicious, abusive or threatening messages to an individual or group online. This can be done to the victims in public or private.
Similar to outing, trickery involves revealing private information about another individual. When someone participates in this type of cyberbullying, the person befriends someone and gains his or her trust with the specific intention of sharing that person’s embarrassing information online.
This happens when someone posts rumors and gossip about someone online. Cyberbullies use denigration to destroy the target’s relationships and reputation.
“This is the granddaddy of all cyberbullying techniques. It’s a term almost as old as the Internet itself. Trolling is the deliberate act of provoking a response through the use of some type of inflammatory statements – such as using insults and bad language – in an online forum,” Arsenault says. “Back in the day, trolling was found on bulletin boards and on similar online forums. Today trolls ‘live’ on social networking sites. The goal is generally to incite someone to anger, perhaps so they post something inappropriate or embarrassing. Trolling is often done to try to make the troll feel better by making others upset.”
“Exclusion is creating groups or events and excluding someone,” Ponce says. “This can also happen by not tagging someone in a photo or inviting them to an event, as well as excluding someone from an online conversation.”
While it is important to understand what the different cyberbullying behaviors are, in order to get a comprehensive overview, it’s also important to understand the bullies themselves and why they do what they do to their peers. There are many reasons that students may participate in these behaviors, including boredom, revenge, anger and to provoke reactions from their victims.
Moreover, the anonymous nature of the Internet makes it easier for individuals to cyberbully others, especially if they are social outcasts themselves who would not have the courage to bully anyone in person. In other instances, some people become cyberbullies because they are part of the in crowd, and they are mimicking the behaviors of their own peer groups to gain acceptance.
The Impact of Cyberbullying
Being the victim of bullying is already a stressful experience, but when the Internet is added to the mix, it can be particularly painful due to the reach that the bully has on the victim, according to Arsenault.
“Before the Internet, kids who were bullied at school often had a respite when they got home. Today, bullying happens in person and online, so it can be incessant,” she says. “For those victims of bullying who spend a lot of time online, especially on social media, they are literally subjected to the bullying and its negative effects around the clock.”
Furthermore, the indelible nature of the Internet can amplify the stress and hurt that the victims of cyberbullying feel, which is ultimately the bully’s goal.
“In these instances, the victim feels even more powerless since it is very easy to disseminate information online and very hard to retrieve and remove what is already out there,” Ponce says. “A lot of times, a cyberbully may use the Internet or cell phone as a weapon of choice, and the bullying can very easily spill over into more harm at school with their peers.”
As a result of the persistent nature of cyberbullying, there can be a lot of negative effects that students can experience, such as:
- Decreased academic performance
- Feelings of isolation
- Changes in eating and sleeping habits
- Lowered self-esteem
- Increased school absences
- Loss of interest in hobbies and other activities
- Using alcohol and drugs to cope
- Withdrawing from family and friends
Self-Harm and Cyberbullying
If not monitored closely, the impact of cyberbullying can cause excessive stress and depression, and students who are victims may feel drawn to self-harm as a result of their experiences. A study published in The Journal of Medical Internet Research, students who have been cyberbullied are twice as likely to engage in self-harming behaviors and to have suicidal thoughts than those who have not.
Conversely, the victims of bullying are not the only ones who are vulnerable to self-harm and suicidal behaviors: The study also indicates that young people who cyberbully others are at a significantly higher risk of experiencing these feelings than those who don’t.
What to do if You’re the Victim of Cyberbullying
Students who are victims of cyberbullying may feel so overwhelmed that they don’t know how to handle the situation. Here are some steps they can take to manage these situations and get the help they need.
Ignore the bully.
More often than not, cyberbullies will stop their behavior if their victim just ignores them. Bullies crave reactions, so students should keep in mind that reacting with similar behaviors in order to make bullies stop will not work. In fact, responding will probably intensify the situation and make it worse.
Talk to a trusted adult.
Students should be aware that they don’t have to suffer through cyberbullying in silence. When they experience it, they should let their parents know what’s going on so they can get help and emotional support. Additionally, telling someone at the school, like a teacher, coach or counselor, can encourage the abuse to stop.
Block the bully.
“The student should immediately block the bully on the platform and any other social media sites with which they are able to contact the victim. Every social media site has a method to block other users. Chances are your kids know how, even if the parents don’t,” Arsenault says. “This prevents the cyberbully from sending any more messages, pictures or videos to the child. In most cases, blocking someone prevents them from being able to locate your profile on the service altogether.”
Switch your email or phone number.
Another way that students can cut off a cyberbully is by switching his or her email address and phone number. This way, the person has no way to get in contact.
“Some social media platforms use temporary posts, such as Snapchat, and virtually all platforms allow users to delete their own images and messages, sometimes even those sent privately. Taking a screenshot of the offending post is a record that can be used to substantiate a complaint, even if the bully later deletes the posts in question,” Arsenault says.
Contact the police if necessary.
In some cases, such as with photos that are considered child pornography, the evidence of cyberbullying is not legal to have, so documenting it will get the student, or his or her parents, into legal trouble. When this occurs, parents should contact the police to document the instances of cyberbullying and take legal action against the person committing it. Also, victims of cyberbullying can contact the police if threats of violence have been received.
Report the website.
If someone is being bullied via a website or social media platform, that person should contact the site to make the administrators aware of the issue. Since bullying behaviors are against the terms of service, getting the person kicked off the site can make the bully stop harassing the victim.
Devise a safety plan.
“We always encourage our adolescents to create a safety plan if they are in an unhealthy relationship; this includes bullying and cyberbullying. Part of that plan might be changing your passwords, blocking the people who are bullying you and reporting any negative or offensive posts,” Ponce says.
Obtain additional support.
“There are a lot of local organizations that are here to help and can provide valuable resources to an adolescent who has experienced any type of bullying,” says Ponce. “If a student is feeling distressed or anxious, or having feelings of sadness or depression about the situation, they shouldn’t be afraid to seek professional help to start healing and navigate the process. The school counselor is also another valuable resource. Finding friends, family and outside support services is essential in helping an adolescent through this.”
Students may think they are at fault when they’re the victims of cyberbullying, particularly if the bullies are people they’ve had friendships or romantic relationships with. It’s important for them to realize that they are not responsible for how other people are treating them, and they should not feel guilty about it.
Because the consequences of cyberbullying can be so severe – for the bully as well as the victim – it’s essential for teachers, parents and even other students, to work together to prevent cyberbullying. Here are some strategies that can help.
- It’s OK for them to report any online abuse that happens to them.
- Participate in cyberbullying prevention training to better understand it and learn strategies for addressing it.
- Educate students about what cyberbullying behaviors are and why they’re wrong.
- Foster an environment of mutual respect and tolerance in the classroom.
- Integrate the Internet and social media into lesson plans to teach students how to be respectful to others online.
- Work closely with parents so they understand cyberbullying.
- Employ anti-cyberbullying policies in the classroom.
- Monitor children’s online activities.
- Seize children’s mobile devices if they are caught mistreating people online.
- Educate about children how to use technology responsibly.
- Be aware of whom children are speaking to, and making friends with, online.
- Understand the signs of someone who is a bullying victim.
- Learn how to use the technology that children are using in order to get an assessment of their online world.
- Think before making every post online, and avoid creating posts that can have a negative impact on your reputation.
- Learn what cyberbullying is and what behaviors are involved in cyberbullying.
- Avoid posting inappropriate photos online because they can be the fuel that cyberbullies use.
- Treat everything and everyone with respect.
Cyberbullying behaviors are not just an annoyance; in some states, they’re a crime.
Social Media Safety Tips
While the Internet can be a valuable resource to help students prepare for tests and conduct research for assignments, as well as stay in touch with their friends, it’s still important for them to be safe when using technology – specifically social media sites. Here are some tips to help teens stay safe online.
- Never share password information with others.
- Don’t post address, telephone number or school location online.
- Use strong privacy settings, so only friends and family can view posts.
- Be careful when clicking on links, and don’t click links from unknown individuals.
- Don’t accept friend requests from strangers.
- Use strong passwords and update them frequently.
- Don’t respond to abusive posts.
- Never open attachments from unknown individuals.
- Don’t allow programs to track location.